Greenhouse scene

Autumn in the garden

Today was an amazingly warm autumn day – a big change from the very cold weather we had over the Easter weekend!

The little chicks are growing up fast. Cricket is now saying “bok bok” a lot more than “cheep cheep”, and charlotte is growing a rather lovely hen’s tail. I’m feeling a little reserved about whether Cricket is in fact a girl (not again!) so I’m keeping a closer eye on her.

The afternoon lighting was rather beautiful for photographing the garden. Hope you enjoy this update :)


There be ticks in them thar hills

It seems we are in the middle of a plague of tiny ticks at our house at the moment. Our house backs onto bush, and there are creeks throughout our area – perfect for ticks! :-(

Normally we see a variety of sizes, ranging from teeny tiny pin-prick ticks up to size-of-a-glass-headed-pin. Thankfully we are only getting the itty bitty ones at the moment, because I’m developing a bit of a reaction to the bite of the larger kind!

I’m not feeling particularly thankful at the moment, though, because these tiny ticks are really destroying my enjoyment of the garden. I’m now going outside dressed from head to toe like this:


Rain slicker plus ski pants!

Rain slicker plus ski pants!

Now that’s a face that says “happy to be gardening”!

In short, I’m putting a rain slicker and ski pants over the top of whatever clothes I’m wearing, in order to go out into my garden and pick herbs, sort out the chickens, wrangle the children, etc. The ticks are THAT BAD! I figure that with a layer I can peel off immediately I might have some chance of avoiding the ones that crawl onto your skin from your clothing.

We’ve also been dosing up on insect repellent and showering after garden exposure. I’m getting pretty sick of washing all the tick infested clothes!


Laced corset

Quick Costuming Update

So … what have I been so busy with lately?

Well, child rearing. Okay, what else?

Costuming! I participate in the SCA, which is a basically a bunch of people who get together to reproduce medieval arts and crafts, costuming and combat. You may have heard of them, they are everywhere!

In my local area we have a festival at Easter that I’ve been preparing for. So far I’ve made a chemise (a long white undershirt), a corset, and I’m in the process of making an early tudor kirtle.

A kirtle is a supportive dress that performs a similar function to a modern bra, with a dress included. A tudor lady would wear another dress over the top of this. That’s a fair few layers of clothing!

I’m about to put some temporary lacing onto the bodice of my kirtle, so that I can fit and sew the skirt.

Here are a couple of pictures of what I’ve been up to. :)

Bread roll critter

Healthy preschool lunches

Hi everyone! I’ve been crazy busy with some sewing in preparation for a major medieval re-enactment event held each year at Easter. I’m madly attempting to pattern and create new gowns for myself and Isobel, but of course I have to start with all the undergarments first (chemise, then corset, then first gown, then the outer gown) … yikes! So I will be a little slower with the posts in the next couple of weeks.

Today I have a gallery of school lunches to share: this is a little project I’ve been doing for a number of weeks, taking photos of what I send to preschool with Will (and now Evie too!). I aim to send something that they will actually eat, but without sending junk (which I just don’t buy at all, to avoid temptation).

Each of these lunch boxes takes only a couple of minutes to assemble. Mostly I just pull the veggie drawer out of the fridge and make up whatever I can find. Sometimes I will add some bread (always wholemeal, or wholemeal grain bread, or something I baked). Other times they get a treat like the Salada biscuits.

I find that sometimes almost the whole lunch box comes home with a few bits picked out, and more often it comes back scraped clean except for a few tomatoes. This is pretty much what happens at home, too! Apparently Evie eats *a lot* of fruit at morning tea time, so I’m not surprised if she is still full by lunch. Hmmm. :-/

One great thing about packing lunches like this is it doesn’t cost much unless you choose to add some meat, or processed biscuits. Avoiding muesli bars and pre-packed biscuits-with-cheese saves a small fortune, I believe. These last two I see in lunches here *a lot*. Also, fruit juice poppers! That’s a whole lot of added sugar and salt that my kids just don’t need. They have water bottles to refill all day, and I’ve sent plain white milk to school in a bottle on occasion.

Note: there is a fridge at preschool, so I can send anything I like and it is kept safe until lunch time. When William goes to school I will need to pack a freezer block to keep the items fresh especially if I send meat.

It is disappointing to see the food come home again, but I’m not tempted to send junk instead. I’m sure they are just filling up with fruit at morning tea, or they have small appetites like they do at home! They won’t starve themselves!

I’m most proud that the kids don’t ask for food that other children have. I’m amazed that the afternoon tea basket is full of packet chips, Tiny Teddies and other junk food. And my kids don’t seem to envy (yet!). Yay.


Autumn garden: random bits

We’ve had a fair bit of rain over the last few days, and some of our recent plantings have started to shoot up! Here’s a pictorial update, and some random extras thrown in. :)

Mending a hole

Make do and Mend

William’s cargo pants (one of two pairs of long pants in his wardrobe) had a hole in the knee on Tuesday:

A hole in William's cargo pants

My finger poking into a hole in the knee

Since I don’t have many long pants for him, and it’s starting to get a lot cooler, I decided to mend the hole before it got any bigger. He will be wearing the pants regardless! Mending a little hole like this is pretty quick and easy, so long as you have some kind of scrap fabric, and a needle and thread!

Scrap fabric patch

Matching scrap sheeting, folded, for a patch

First of all, I pinned my scrap fabric on the inside of the clothing, behind the hole. I like to have a patch about three times as wide as the side of the hole to make sure any weak fabric in the area is also reinforced.

Patch pinned in place

The patch is pinned behind the hole.

The stitching area I used is bordered by the safety pins. The scrap fabric is a piece of old sheeting which was pretty thin, so I doubled it over.

Running stitches

Several rows of running stitch to quilt the patch

I used a contrasting-but-not-ugly thread colour because I didn’t have any matching thread. My patching is not invisible! It looks great with either white or black thread, but the paler blue colour I used made the patch a little less obtrusive.

I started with some rows of running stitches to quilt the patch onto the fabric. Next time, I think I will use pad stitch instead, as it was quicker to cover (not that it was particularly slow). Pad stitch also made a nicer ‘feel’ to the quilting.

Quilting on patch complete

Quilted patch complete

Here is the patch completed – in the centre of the patch I’ve used pad stitch, which was necessary to grab the fabric around the hole. If I’d continued with running stitch, the raw edges of the hole would have been parallel with the stitching, and would have flapped loose.

Zoomed out view

View from a more normal viewing distance

It’s not terribly noticeable, is it? The faded colour in the knee area makes it more obvious, but because the pants are pretty decorated already, the extra stitching just blends in.

Patch inside the pants

Here’s what it looked like on the inside. I simply trimmed a little closer to the stitching (being careful not to clip any pants fabric) and left it.

Trimmed patch

I didn’t bother finishing the raw edges of the patch because it’s likely William will grow out of these pants before the patch ravels away. If there is a lot of ravelling in the first wash, I will just whip stitch the edges to prevent it.

Why bother? Well, whilst kids clothes are cheap and I can probably get some replacement pants at my local thrift store — these pants are still good! I’m attached to them, and it will take time and effort to take the kids shopping. I’d rather spend a few minutes with a needle and thread, and my thoughts, and just get it done.

I also really hate throwing something away that I know can be saved. :)

Octopus Softie

Octopus Tutorial: Shake those booties!

Welcome to the final instalment in my tutorial series: making a softie octopus. :) So far we have:

Now we are going to finish off with some scrap booties!

In previous projects I have used denim cut from old jeans, but this time I had some leftover blue linen which I thought would make a nice change. The material was easier to work with as it wasn’t as stiff, so I’d recommend a medium weight fabric as a first choice for the booties.

Step One: Cut and Fold

Take a long narrow strip of leftover fabric and cut it to 22 x 4 inches. Fold this in half lengthwise, and press flat. Then fold the long raw edges in by at least a 1/4 inch, and press them, too:

Pressed strip of fabric

Press the long raw edges, and the centre line

Cut this long strip into 8 equal parts, so that each folded strip is now 2 3/4 inches wide:

Eight pressed strips

Cut into eight parts

Each one of these will make a bootie. If you don’t have a long thin scrap, you can instead cut 8 strips that are 2 3/4 x 4 inches, (fold the short edges in this case). This is just a little more fiddling, so I took advantage of having one long piece.

You could also do each bootie a different colour, if you liked!

Step Two: Origami

Take one of your pressed bootie pieces and place it behind the end of a plaited leg:

Plait on top of the unfolded bootie

Unfold, then place behind the plait

Make sure the middle fold is lower than the raw ends of the plait (trim if necessary), and that the top folded edge is going around a firmly plaited part. Ultimately you are going to fold up the bottom part over the end of the plait to enclose all that mess.

Fold one corner over, on a slight diagonal, and then the other:

Top corners folded in

Fold the top corners in

You may like to remove the safety pin first, and pinch the whole lot together so the plait doesn’t come undone. Or, you could remove the safety pin after tacking down your folded corners:

Tacked in place

Tack the fold firmly in place

I used no. 8 perle cotton for decorative effect, but you could match the fabric with regular sewing thread if you liked.

Stitch a few times in place to get the thread anchored, and then catch up both bootie corners, and maybe a little fabric from the plait. Don’t cut the thread off just yet, we will sew the edges of the bootie with it once we’ve folded it up.

You now have a little ‘cape’ around the end of the plait: make sure the neck of the cape is folded tightly enough that the ends of the plait won’t slip around whilst you work.

Next we do some folding at the bottom of the bootie. Make another diagonal fold on the right hand side that is a similar angle to what you did at the top:

Right hand side folded

Fold the bottom corner to match the line of the top

Squish the pointy bit at the right hand side (where the middle fold is) down flat so that the raw edges are all facing to the left.

Now you do the same thing to the left hand side, to match:

Left hand side folded

Then the left hand side

There should be a little flat section along the bottom: make this about as wide as the width of your plait.

Now fold the bottom of the bootie up along the middle fold line to meet the neck of your little ‘cape’, like so:

Folded up and pinned

Fold up and pin over the tacking

I pinned mine with a safety pin so I could sew it up without pricking myself.

You see how the flat part is now covering the tacked fold? You can fiddle about with the angles of your bottom folds to make sure it looks right when folded up. You quickly get the hang of this after the first couple of times!

Step Three: Sew it up

Take your needle up again and put it through the bottom corner of your bootie, from the inside, facing out. Now whip stitch around the edge of the bootie, working your way up to the top:

Whip stitching

Whip stitch from the bottom corner to the top

At the top of the bootie, whip stitch around the entire top edge encircling the plait (ie. circle around until you get back to your previous stitching). Catch some plait fabric into each stitch instead of going all the way through to the other side of the plait.

Stitching around the plait

Note stitching at the top of the bootie goes all the way around the plait!

When you return to your stitched edge, push the needle through the plait across to the other side and resume whip stitching down to the corner of your bootie.

At the corner, anchor the thread by taking a couple of little stitches on top of each other. Push the needle in at the corner and out through the middle of the bootie somewhere and trim it close to the fabric (this is called “burying the thread”).

Do this for all eight booties, and then stand back to admire your handiwork!


Bush walking


Last weekend we ducked out to a local park to have a picnic, and a short bush walk.

Stephen and the Kids walking along a bush path

We are lucky enough to live right on the edge of a National Park, which means there are many bush walks within a few minutes of us. We moved here when I was still pregnant with William, so we’ve not done much long distance walking (I was either too whale-like, or the kids too small to take the steep grades). There is a lot of up and down in our area!

More walking

The native bush in Northern Sydney is full of gum trees of various shapes and colours: absolutely beautiful trees.

Beautiful twisty tree

Beautiful twisty tree

There is evidence of bushfire back-burning in this area, with a fair bit of regrowth over the spring and summer. In the next picture, check out all the blackened tree trunks, and in the foreground there is a flowering “grass tree” (Xanthorrhoea). It’s a grassy-shrub with a long reed-like spike coming out of the top.

Burnt bush with verdant regrowth

Blackened trees with rich regrowth

This area is full of grass trees, but they don’t flower very often. We have a grass tree in a pot at home, but it has not flowered yet, and I’ve had it at least ten years. They are very slow growing plants.

Grass trees in the undergrowth

Undergrowth, thick with grass trees

There are also a couple of really big burnt out trees that are so hollow, much of the tree trunk is missing.

Giant hollow tree

That one is so big I think you could fit a park bench across it!

Hollow tree with a peek-a-boo hole

This tree has a peek-a-boo hole!

This one is right by the path, and William loves to peek through that hole when I’m on the other side. :)

Side of a hollow tree

This is the side of the peek-a-boo tree. I hide on the inside. :)

I don’t how these trees stay upright! They are so beautiful with their scribbly bark.

And then there’s this fabulous view:

Water views from the lookout



An Aphid infestation

On the weekend I discovered my Bay tree was infested with Aphids. This is the first time in a couple of years I’ve seen a plant in our garden really inundated, and there was not a ladybird in sight!

Looks like the natural Aphid predators we have been nurturing have all gone quiet for Autumn, and there was nothing stopping these wretched pests from taking hold.

I found hundreds of Aphids on the under side of every leaf. What tipped me off? The tops of the leaves are covered in sooty black mould:

Sooty black mould

Sooty black mould on the tops of the leaves

The Aphids exude a sticky sweet substance as they feed on the leaf. This stuff is a perfect food for sooty black mould.

Well, when I saw this I was most unhappy. Just up the slope we used to have a pair of topiary trees that became infested with sooty mould and no matter what I did, I couldn’t get rid of it. We ended up removing them (they were also very, very ugly)!

I don’t want to lose my lovely Bay tree, so I went to work with my secateurs to prune the worst of the sooty black mould away. The tree won’t mind a trim, I haven’t been pruning it since we planted it and it was getting a little tall.

Pruned Bay tree

Bay tree, pruned

The back of the tree was much worse where there is more shade. I took a fair bit from low down and behind to let the air flow more freely here.

Once I was happy with the new shape I took some soapy water and a rag and scrubbed away at the sooty mould:

Washing leaves

Washing the leaves with soapy water

I can’t say this was hugely successful! Maybe I should have used soapier water? Or a toothbrush, maybe. Quite a lot of the aphids wiped off from the underside of the leaves, leaving me with (still a lot!) of the more sticky ones. But I didn’t make much headway on the mould up top.

As you can imagine, washing a tree by hand takes a long time! I did the best I could, but the morning started to get away from me. At some point I realised I would have to just get on with the white oil and return to my nagging children! :)

I make up my own white oil using a recipe from Gardening Australia. Jerry Coleby Williams suggests you make up a batch of oil and store it for up to three months in a jar:

  • 2 cups of vegetable oil (sunflower or cheap bulk olive oil)
  • 1/2 cup dishwashing detergent

When you want to use it, shake this up well and add 1 tablespoon to each litre of water. I find I hardly ever need white oil any more, so I’ve stopped storing it in bulk. Instead I just scale the recipe to suit my pressure spray bottle.

I coated the leaves and stem well with the spray, especially the underside where the aphids are actually hiding. I also coated the leaves without aphids to make sure the pests don’t take control there too.

Here are a couple of spray tips:

  • Avoid spraying in really hot weather, or the leaves will clog with oil and suffer
  • Avoid spraying in hot sun, because the oil can get very hot and burn your leaves
  • Floppy and hairy leaves (like lettuce and lamb’s tongue) are not suitable to spray because they will burn
  • Gently bend the stems over so that you can get more easily at the undersides of the leaves. That way you spot where you’ve missed and the spray dribbles all over
  • Check the leaves after rain to see if they still feel a bit oily. If not, you might need to spray again to recoat the aphids

In a week I will check the aphids and see how many have died off, and if there are new aphids there. I will probably need to spray a total of three times, two weeks apart.

I think I will also look up the Bay tree and see what fertiliser and soil condition it likes, just to make sure it can get back to full health quickly!


I’m Honoured!

I have been quite touched to be nominated for the Liebster Award, by a blogger I’ve been following for a couple of months: Mended Wheels. What a lovely thought! I immediately googled what a Liebster Award is, because I’ve not come across it before, and now … I’m conflicted!

Liebster Award

The Liebster Award

The Liebster Award is basically a chain letter that is designed to encourage new bloggers, and introduce them into the blogging community. Which is a worthy aim! But it’s a chain letter, which is bad. But it made me feel briefly pretty excited, which is good! But if I accept, I have to do a bunch of work! Which is bad. But it’s blogging, and I like to do this: so that’s good. But I don’t want to pass it on … which is bad.

I hope you are getting the whole cursed frogurt reference here.

The award (if accepted) comes with a neat little task of answering some questions from the nominee. I like this part, as blogging is all about sharing and participating with a community, and if you guys want to ask me questions, by all means do so! It also means I should nominate five more blogs to receive the award.

Since I would feel like a bit of a jerk to *not* accept this award, I will do so under the condition that I will accept this exactly once!

Update: In a twist of fate, I have been nominated a second time for this award by Sarah of Life In the Orchard, before I had time to accept the first! I feel so honoured that you both have chosen to nominate me. I don’t want to ignore Sarah’s nomination, especially since I would have nominated her own blog, had she not recently accepted the award herself! So I will answer the questions posed by Jill, and simply acknowledge Sarah and her great blog here as a way of appreciation. Thank you!

Here are my answers to the questions posed by Jill. There are some great questions here!

1.  What makes your blog different?

Hmm, perhaps that I’m writing about a fairly diverse range of topics (sewing, frugal living, gardening, quilting) but under the umbrella of “Living Simply”. I was worried that people who enjoyed some topics would be irritated by seeing posts on such different areas. So far, though, I think this has worked well.

2.  What do you want to accomplish by blogging?

Really, I was hoping to document tips and information for myself, my children (once they grow up and start running their own households) and for people in my community who ask me how and why I do what I do. I want people to be inspired to live greener, save their money for things that will make them happy, and to live healthy happy lives. Not asking much, huh?

3.  Dogs or cats?

Chickens! Oh, cheeky. No, I’m a cat person, though we don’t keep one here. There are too many native birds and wildlife here to introduce a cat into the mix. Feral cats are a real problem in the Australian bush. So I commune with neighbourhood cats instead. :)

4.  What is your favorite TV show?

Ooh, tricky. We don’t watch commercial TV so the shows we choose to watch are always hand-picked. We are watching Elementary, Sherlock, Miss Fisher’s Detectice Agency, Midsomer Murders. Agents of Shield. Doctor Who. Of all these shows, Doctor Who comes on free-to-air but we choose to buy it on iTunes because we get the best quality that way. So: Doctor Who!

5.  What is a weird talent you have?

I can wiggle my left ear lobe up and down. :)

6.  Is your blog a secret from family and friends or do you share?

I think many of my subscribers are family members. Mum and Dad and Isobel get the posts in their email inboxes. Stephen reads via feedly :)

7.  What household chore do you hate the most?

Without a doubt: cleaning the shower cubicle. Absolutely hate this. So much grout to clean! Urgh, subway tile is a pain. And the floor is federation tile (lots of small pieces, but laid in out dodgy with … lots of grout).

8.  What kind of future posts can we expect to see from you?

Much of the same kind of thing. :) My categories are fairly indicative of what I intend to post. Occasional tips for reducing debt or saving money, or ideas for upcycling, or galleries of the garden. Something I haven’t yet done a post on is my medieval re-enactment hobby. I have a big yearly event coming up that I’m starting to sew for, so expect something different in the Handmade department in the next month or so. :)

9.  If you had to move to another country RIGHT NOW what country would you pick and why?

The UK – I think it would be my favourite climate type (temperate) and I would have a wonderful time exploring an area that has a lot of medieval history. Or France. Or Germany. :)

10.  Do you have a passport?  If so, what stamps are in it?

I did have a passport, but it’s expired now. Most recently I travelled to San Jose and New Jersey on business, but that was ten years ago now! Before that I’ve seen Bali and New Caledonia, and back in High School I travelled to Japan. These days I aspire to travel within my own country to see some wonders that may not be around for much longer (the Great Barrier Reef and Tasmania are on my actual list for “one day”).


The next part of the award conditions are to nominate five small blogs. I’m having trouble with this part, because a lot of the blogs I would nominate have already received the award, and I don’t want to tag you back again! It turns out I also mostly follow blogs with large followings.

So in the spirit of the award, I’m going to list some blogs that I think worthy of encouragement, or that I think would be great for you to add to your reading list / community. These bloggers are under absolutely no obligation to accept the award! Basically, this is a shout out that you are doing a lovely job, not an obligation. :)

In no particular order, I give you:

You guys are doing great work, I hope you keep it up! If you choose to accept the award (and again: do say “thanks, but no thanks!” if you want! I really won’t be offended!) then I have only a couple of questions to pose:

  1. Where do you see yourself in 6 months time? What are you dreaming of doing?
  2. Do you have any wisdom that has been passed down to you from a previous generation that you’d like to share?
  3. What superpower would you choose?

Thank you for the honour, Jill of Mended Wheels, and Sarah of Life in the Orchard. I’m touched that you would think of me in your list of nominees. :)